Watching this exuberant, colourful and warm-hearted musical, a live adaptation of Dreamworks’ hit animated movie series, is like stepping into the pages of a well-loved fairytale. Shrek The Musical’s set design and clever use of projection has this audience enthralled from the very first scene, where the seven-year-old Shrek is sent off into the world alone, cast out by his parents following Ogre tradition.
Finding refuge in his own stinky swamp, Shrek leads a happy life until his peace is disrupted by the arrival of a host of fairytale characters who have been sent away from the land of Duloc by the evil Lord Farquard – played here with preeningly camp perfection by James Gillan. In order to resume his isolated life of exile in the swamp, Shrek must help Farquard to release a princess, Fiona, from her 20-year imprisonment in a dragon-guarded tower.
The next two hours are a riot of colour, oft-toilet-related humour and spectacular choreography as Shrek and his hilarious sidekick Donkey traverse swamps, a lava-filled moat, a dragon’s lair and a steep castle tower to rescue Fiona, who Farquard has claimed as his bride. Throughout their adventures, we are treated to impromptu set-pieces by fairytale chararcters including the Pied Piper and his tap-dancing rats; the gingerbread man’s soulful warblings; and the lamentations of Pinocchio, desperate to be a real boy.
The musical, like the film, has a real anti-fairytale feel about it. Shrek and Fiona feel hate at first sight, and the burping, farting and distinctly ogre-ish pair are a far cry from your standard Disney prince and princess. However, love conquers all as the pair find they have a lot more in common that they first thought. Both were abandoned by their parents, isolated and lonely, and both fall foul of standard beauty ideals (at least after dark). The old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” comes into play as, helped along by Donkey, they fall for each other.
Shrek is a story that will appeal to everyone, assuming they’re not offended by bodily-function humour. Even the most cynical of viewers can’t fail to be impressed by the riot of colour, amazing scenery and impressive choreography. Antony Lawrence gives a wonderful performance as Shrek: curmudgeonly and harsh at the start, his cold exterior melts as he experiences true friendship and love after a lifetime of loneliness. His vocal performances are very strong, and his agility impressive.
Donkey is another stand-out performance, with Brandon Lee Sears’ infectious energy, hilarious poses and wonderful humour providing many of the belly laughs along the way. Joanne Clifton’s portrayal of anti-princess Fiona is charming and the chemistry between her and Shrek is electric – notably in the duet I Think I Got You Beat, where they compete over their miserable childhoods. Naturally, too, the closing singalong of I’m A Believer brought the audience up into a well-deserved standing ovation.
Shrek The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Mon 20 Nov
On until Sat 25 Nov. Tickets: £17.50-£74. Info: here
words SARAH EDWARDS